By Michelle Wagner | Outer Banks Voice on September 15, 2021
Two weeks after mandating universal masking in district school buildings, the Dare County Board of Education received some good news at its Sept. 14 meeting from Superintendent John Farrelly about the declining numbers of quarantines in district schools.
At the same time, the board also heard impassioned statements from nine parents during public comment who are opposed to the mask mandate. During the Sept. 14 meeting – where there continued to be a law enforcement presence on hand – Board Chair Mary Ellon Ballance also reminded audience members at several points that if they refused to wear face coverings, they would have to leave.
During his remarks, Farrelly reported that there are currently 56 active cases among Dare County students and four among staff, with 244 students quarantined. That’s a significant decrease since Sept. 1 when the board voted unanimously to mandate universal masking and there were 78 active student cases and 399 students quarantined. And on Sept. 7, there were 77 cases and 482 students quarantined.
With the mask mandate, close contacts of a student who tests positive do not have to quarantine, which would have been the case without universal masking.
“We expect that number [of students in quarantine] to continue to drop, certainly by the next week and certainly by the time that the board meets again in October,” Farrelly explained. “The two areas where we continue to have quarantine concerns and situations are in athletics and in lunch or breakfast.”
Since the majority of students eat in their classrooms where social distancing isn’t possible, the superintendent said the only way to prevent students from getting quarantined while eating would be to extend the school day so students could eat with social distancing in the cafeteria or have students eat outside.
“We can’t prevent every single situation that comes with kids having to eat breakfast and lunch,” he noted, adding that athletics, particularly with contact sports, presents challenges as well.
“What we’re trying to do is mitigate with as many strategies as we can, particularly with athletics…but we’re going to continue to have kids who are quarantined,” Farrelly added. I know there’s some heartburn, we’ve had a couple of athletes who have been quarantined twice, and I understand the concerns.”
Farrelly also explained that students who are quarantined must remain out of school for 14 days, regardless of a negative COVID-19 test result. Despite the Centers for Disease Control offering options to end quarantine after 10 days with no symptoms or 7 days with a negative test, it also states that the individual must remain socially distanced through the 14 days.
“It’s currently impossible for us to provide the physical distancing of six feet when kids are coming back in to schools, and that’s why the Health Department Health Director continues to follow these guidelines,” he noted.
The parents who spoke during the public comment portion of meeting voiced opposition to the mask mandate and quarantining protocols and questioned the efficacy of face coverings.
“These masks are nothing more than political and medical theater,” said Southern Shores resident Matt Brauer. “The mandatory mask policy and these absurd quarantine rules suggested in the Strong Schools Toolkit only serve to promote virtue signaling and political science above actual science and data.”
Referring to a quote by Farrelly on the Dare County Schools website that refers to the district as a family, Kate Cerino of Kitty Hawk asserted: “This hasn’t felt like much of a family to some. A large swath of the family [has felt] intimidated by increasing numbers of armed sheriffs’ deputies at these meetings, admonished for daring to boldly speak up for hard fought freedoms that others have bled and died for.”
For his part, Kill Devil Hills resident Reese Stecher questioned the board as to why there is no public comment during special meetings, including the Sept. 1 meeting in which the board voted for the mask mandate.
“Us parents are the ones with the stake in the game, parents are the ones who pay taxes,” he said. “Not allowing public comment at these meetings, these special meetings, is toxic…If it’s a meeting [about] something so detrimental and important to this many people, to our kids, we ought to have the ability to have public comment.”